Leonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-Seydlitz.

Russia of yesterday and to-morrow online

. (page 14 of 17)
Online LibraryLeonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-SeydlitzRussia of yesterday and to-morrow → online text (page 14 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the white-bearded old man who sat in the kitchen
to have, first of all, his tea, while he blessed the
children of his barin with tears in his eyes. The



harins father had explained to the son that peas-
ants always had tears in their ej^es when they
wanted something special and that they were
never contented; that there were always com-
plaint of the *'intendant" about the peasants, and
from the peasants about the "intendant," and
that the best thing to do was not to pay any at-
tention to this, and to let them fight their own
fights. The peasant was dismissed with prom-
ises, but in reality the letter that the harin wrote
to the "intendant" did not help much, and the
peasant's life was much harder.

The young heir took the boat, and where the
Kama River crossed the Volga he left the boat,
and he took a coach with three speedy horses to
make the drive of twenty hours. The pristav
of the little town where the boat stopped
equipped him with the power necessary, and even
a gardovoy sat on the box of the coach.

Nothing could be more peaceful and beautiful
than the forgotten vast, high plains surrounded
by white birch trees, which are nowhere so strong
as in Simbirsk. The roads were bad, and often
the coach sank deep in the muddy ground. The
inn on the deserted road, where the night had to



be passed, was the most primitive. Its one state-
chamber had three beds in it, in case there might
be, in the night, other travelers. Its price was
one ruble without linen, as it was taken for
granted that the traveler would carry his own
sheets and towels. The state-chamber had not
been opened for months, and had been left un-
touched after the last visitor, who had preferred
to sleep without bed Hnen. The innkeeper was
very sorry that the noble traveler had not an-
nounced his coming the week before. To open
the windows the young man used a knife to pry
out the papers around the casements and to let
in the wonderful aromatic air from the fields and
the woods. The innkeeper shook his head dis-
approvingly, and prophesied to the inexperienced
young man a bad cold, which always came from
too much fresh air.

In the hall, which was used as the dining-room,
sat several peasants and a wandering Jew with
his bundle. As it was late, they had stretched
their tired limbs on the benches. A glance at
the poor Ahasver showed how exhausted he was,
but the innkeeper rebuked them roughly for dis-
respect to the nobleman. The Jew instantly see-



ing his opportunity, awoke and displayed his
goods, showing that he had everything that could
be needed for the night under the roof of the
inn. Smiling and happy, he retired to a remote
corner, although the young man would have been
much more pleased if the Jew had gone out for
a walk while tea, a delicious cabbage soup, some
fresh piroggi, and a piece of delicate ham were
served for his supper. The night in the inn was
a torture; but it was June, the night was short,
and with the dawn the young man left the room
where the blood-thirsty insects were awake.

The old peasant who drove the coach pointed
out to the young man the sloping milestone that
marked the boundary of his estate.

The young harin was silent and even a little
moved as he drove for hours and hours over land
which was his. He looked around. The seed
was planted, the ground tilled. The httle col-
onies of peasants, which were passed here and
there, appeared no better and no worse than the
other poor, rudimentary villages in the vast soli-
tudes of the Russian landscapes. Dirty children,
amazed, glanced at the coach. Disturbed dogs
infuriated, ran with the horses, only to speed



back to the poor houses where they had left old
bones. The slow and groaning coach moved in
a serpentine route over the uneven road to the
top of the plain, which seemed to lie in a veil of
delicate sunbeams. The earth breathed forth a
wonderful fertility from its open furrows of dark

In the distance oxen drew a plow, and a young
boy, shouting and whipping the animals, walked
behind. Like clouds, between sky and earth, in-
numerable sheep moved over the meadows, nib-
bling the grass and rubbing one another's wool,
for they had not been liberated from their winter
dress. Suddenly at the end of an alley of old
maples shone yellow and friendly the castle of
the estate.

The gardovoy turned to say slyly that perhaps
the harin would better keep his incognito and
make the scoundrelly superintendent believe that
he was a possible purchaser, for the *'intendant"
was a rascal who cheated everybody, whose
daughters were kept like barischnas and even had
a French governess, and whose sons were in the
regiments in Samara. All this did not belong
to an honest "intendant" whose grandparents had



been serfs. The young man accepted the sug-
gestion of the gardovoy. The old peasant on
the box smiled; Russians like to play a httle
comedy. The coach stopped. The place seemed
sleepy in the warmth of midday. A kind of
Russian butler, barefooted, and with a towel over
his shoulder, appeared around the corner of the
porch. He looked perplexedly at the coach, at
the young man, and at the severe gardovoy.
Visitors! They had not been announced; or
perhaps it was an inspection of the pohce. First
of all he scratched his head and then bowed
humbly. The gardovoy did the talking. Was
Simeon Wassiliewitsch at home? Why, yes, he
was at home ; he was out looking at the stables.

"Then," the gardovoy replied, ''tell Simeon
Wassiliewitsch that noble travelers are here to
buy the place."

The Russian butler opened his mouth wide.
'What, is the place to be sold?" he asked,
'Pascholir said the gardovoy, which meant,
"Hurry up or I will kick you," and the butler
pascholled, to come back after a while in a clean
blue-linen shirt, with high boots on his feet, and
his hair wetted with water or grease. The young





man was asked to take a seat until Simeon Was-
siliewitsch and his wife Sofia Bogdanowa ap-
peared. It seemed that the house suddenly was
awakened into a state of excitement. Doors
were opened and shut, windows were opened, and
from one of them a rosy-faced, fair-haired girl
looked out, to withdraw, embarrassed, on meet-
ing the young man's laughing glances.

When the gardovoy returned from the stable,
where the horses were unharnessed, he smiled

"The place looks pretty good," he said.
"Simeon Wassiliewitsch hves here like a moth in
a fur-coat."

The "intendant," alarmed, came hurriedly from
the courtyard. He was a rusty-looking fellow,
with sly eyes and a long mustache, which gave
him a martial look. The gardovoy explained in
a few words what the young man had come for.
Simeon bowed a little uneasily, and also scratched
his head. No one had informed him that the new
heir, the young count, would sell the estate, which
had belonged to the family for more than a hun-
dred years.

"That is why," the gardovoy nodded, "the



pristav has ordered that Simeon Wassihewitsch
shall show the estate in minutest detail."

The "intendant," who avoided having much
to do with the police, completely changed his
policy. He probably thought it wise to be very,
very hospitable, and, bowing, he said that it was
an honor to show the place w^here he had been the
superintendent ; he was proud to show how good
and faithful he had been. And how long would
his Excellency, as he addressed the young boj^
give him the great joy to remain there? Several
days, perhaps? Then the guest-rooms would be
put in order right away, so as to make it as com-
fortable as possible for his Excellency under his
humble roof. The gardovoy smiled at the well-
oiled speech of Simeon Wassiliewitsch as he went

The house was clean and comfortable, with its
vast rooms, large windows, and wide halls. It
was partly furnished with good old things,
mingled with pieces that showed an incredible
provincial taste, which made the young heir smile.
He had lost his timidity, and had decided to go
to the bottom of affairs. Anyhow, the estate
was in good condition, — that was apparent, —



and the sly Simeon had made a good fortune for
himself. An excited race of little butlers, all
barefooted at first, and then booted, went on
through the halls, and finally a fat housekeeper
appeared to find out what the guest needed.
The housekeeper looked astonished when the
young man asked for water with which to wash
himself before luncheon. Water at that time of
day! Such a request was a little embarrassing,
for all the water-bearers were in the fields, and
the water was rather remote from the house. At
last they compromised on a tea-cupful of boiling
water from the kitchen. Not only was the water
remote, but the bath-room turned out to be the
little river that flowed at the foot of the garden,
shrubbery" separating the gentlemen's part from
the ladies'; for the housekeeper explained that
the ladies, having a French education, were very
particular. In old times nobody thought of such
a division. She appeared to prefer the old times.
In the dining-room the window-shades were
closed on account of the bright sunlight and it
looked cozy, with the round table, the sideboard
with many bottles and steaming dishes, and with
the friendly, singing samovar. First, a bowing



with fluttering of white dresses and floating hair
was visible from the ladies of the household, and
the wife of the superintendent, round and stout,
felt honored when the young man kissed her fat,
white hand, and she responded with the cus-
tomary light touch of her lips on his temple. At
the sideboard the men took their glasses of vodka,
while the ladies stood modestly waiting at the
round table for the men to start the luncheon,
which turned out to be an excellent dinner.

The whole family was somewhat frightened by
the news that the estate was to be sold. This
seemed quite unbelievable to Sofia Bogdanowa,
who considered herself a kind of queen and who
never thought that a new owner could dispose
of the property. She sighed, and mentioned the
innumerable inconveniences, — the distance from
social life and the long winters, — but naturally
they could not pass the whole winter there ; after
Christmas they always moved to the little town,
where there would be pleasures for her daughters.
The daughters, sweet, pretty girls, were shy and
silent. They sat without saying a word beside
their Swiss governess, who looked up with burn-
ing, longing eyes, like a poor cow. They talked



French, real French, and Sofia Bogdanowa
mingled with her Russian many French words to
show her noble education. Simeon was proud of
his family. He left the conversation to his wife,
and was zealous to have his guest try his best wine
from Bordeaux.

The place was so charming, so calm, and so
remote not only in miles, but in spirit, that even
this lady, who thought herself the last cry in
fashion, was hke a picture of the precieuse time
of Tolstoy's youth. She read French novels and
lived entirely in the world of romance, leaving
everything practical to Simeon, and her only
dream was to spend part of the time in the capital
and part of the time in Carlsbad.

Wonderful horses were in the stables, — horses
of fast breed, with little, intelligent heads, — and
the young heir passed most of the day on
horseback, speeding over the ten thousand
acres. In the evenings he walked with the
young ladies; he was young with them, and
without worries. The estate was in good con-
dition and most profitable; even the misleading
figures that Simeon showed gave an idea of how
much he must have put into his own pocket.



And there was a coal-mine somewhere, the
gardovoy had found out from the servants, who
did not like Simeon and wanted to have a real
harm. It was like having margarin instead of
real butter. Y^es, Simeon sold the fresh butter,
and sent it to the River Kama, whence it was
shipped God knew how far, perhaps even to Ger-
many. No one could tell exactly. The peasants
had to eat an imitation of butter, which was called
margarin. It was really astonishing how far
advanced this Simbirsk overseer was in modern

It was not until the last day of the visit that
the dramatic moment came when the young heir
turned out to be the count, the owner himself.
It was the real last act of a merry comedy. Sofia
Bogdanowa shed tears, the little girls looked
radiant. The governess had guessed it, and
Simeon grew white. The gardovoy had to con-
firm the young man's claim, for Simeon never
would have believed it. But everything came to
a good end. Simeon agreed to pay double rents,
to send verified reports about the estate, and
even to drive with the young count to the provin-
cial town, where he could get cash from the bank.



The "intendant" also promised to have a bath-
room in the house when the count would honor
the castle with a visit in the hunting-season, and
that he would look after the peasants, who now
came to make complaints and who had suffered
under Simeon's heavy rule.

This was one of the lucky cases where the
estate was not neglected and ruined, where the
peasants were treated badly only when they dis-
obeyed and refused to work. The "intendant,"
who was regarded as the representative of the
count, had his seat in the zemstvos, and so the
rights of the individual peasant were disregarded.
The zemstvos supervised the estates as a whole,
their products, and, as far as possible, the san-
itary conditions. They tried to eliminate infec-
tious diseases among the peasants and their live
stock. Smallpox alw^ays has been prevalent
in Russia, and nowhere else are so many scarred
faces to be seen.

The zemstvos had departments where lands
were registered, with all details concerning them.
They have regulated the prices of food-stuffs,
established credits, and made possible quicker and
easier work. They also took care of the peasants,



who were occupied only a few weeks in the year,
on account of the chmate, and who emigrated to
other parts of Russia where population is needed
and the opportunities are better. The provinces
cooperate in having land exploited and the out-
put increased. The zemstvos were the only
organizations in old Russia that really worked
without graft and bribery. The members had
had their own interests too long jeoparded not
to know that oppression of the peasant meant
their own ruin. They knew all the resources
which slumber in Russia's people; the unweak-
ened force of the primitive folk and the wonder-
ful naivete of imaginative souls that found
expression in their legends and their music.
Russian nobility and Russian peasants rose from
one source, and it is most promising that the head
of the zemstvos will help rule new Russia, for
that means that the democracy that rules has its
roots in the heart of Russia.

An entire class by itself is the little nobility
composed of the bureaucracy, the clergy, and the
police. In the smaller towns it is this class which
has played the first violin. The governor, the
head of a province, was the center around which


d >





ffi tj
CO ~

3 a

= O
c- '^





the petty ambitions of this class circled socially.
The governor himself usually was a removed gen-
eral of the army or an embarrassing nobleman,
with youthful sins on his record, which made his
high family want him out of the way, or an aspir-
ing politician rising to more exalted place. In
any case, he was a man to be respected. To be
received by the governor and to be invited to his
fetes was the aim of every woman and the ambi-
tion of all officials. Generally the governor had
a good time. He had only to hold his hand open
to obtain presents big and small from all sorts of
petitioners, who never would have been heard by
the minister in the capital if they had not been
reconmiended by the provincial governor, the
intermediary through whose influence everything
had to go. Between the petitioner and the gov-
ernor flourished the tschninowniks, whose good
graces were absolutely necessary to gain the gov-
ernor's ear. Sometimes it was the wife of the
governor who, aware of her importance, pro-
tected, favored, and rejected persons or demands.
In the smaller towns the same intrigues were
woven for little matters as in Moscow or Petro-
grad for large affairs.



The same system of bribes and graft was
employed everywhere. It was the great achieve-
ment of the governor never to be caught. He
always had his "sale monsieur," who listened to
the petitioner. Those who paid best were heard

If a regiment was stationed in one of the little
towns, life and pleasure were amazing. There
were two clubs, the aristocratic and the club of the
lettered. The club of nobihty, with the governor
as president, was the goal of social ambition. Its
bylaws required the strictest behavior on the
part of its members : a fine of one ruble for spit-
ting against the wall; two rubles for using the
curtains instead of a handkerchief ; five rubles for
calling the waiters swine or attempting to shoot
them when drunk; exclusion from the official
dining-room for a week for breaking chairs or
china when drunk. The members were always
fined, which assured the club a good income.
Ladies were not excluded ; on the contrary, it was
fashionable for them to dine at the club.

The literary club was simpler. It was an
assembly of journalists, physicians, lawyers,
prosperous merchants, and the discontented. It



had something of a pohtical character, and
women were admitted on certain days. This
club was suspected. It was a dangerous miheu,
where anarchistic and sociahst meetings were
sometimes discovered, and then closed by the
chief of police, who was a member of the club of
nobility. In many cases the chief of police was a
jovial man who, behind closed doors, yielded to
compromises when the champagne was not too
bad and when members offered him sufficient
money. So it happened that on one stormy
political night such a club was closed and
reopened twice.

Gossip blossomed in the provincial towns, but
to a certain degree gallant adventures were
tolerated, especially if the sinners belonged to the
exclusive class and did not mix with unimportant
personalities. There were rarely any apartment-
houses in the small towns, for there was space
enough for a family to have a house to itself.
The usual frame house was spacious and charac-
terless. The hall, overheated and never aired,
was a mixture of fur coats belonging to both
sexes, rubbers of all sizes, umbrellas, fur caps,
and woolen scarfs. There was a drawing-room



of cold splendor, which was opened only for great
occasions. A white marble table stood in the
middle of the room, hke an island, and on it were
the family albums in velvet, cheap German work.
Red and blue velvet corner sofas, uncomfortable
arm-chairs, and artificial flowers in alabaster
vases completed its magnificence. In one corner
was a hanging icon, with its ever-burning light,
and in another were assembled glasses containing
preserved cucumbers and fruits. The doors of
the various rooms were never closed, and some-
times a visitor enjoyed the unexpected view of
the lady of the house in the act of dressing. But
the lady was never timid or hypocritical. On the
contrary, she was proud of her complicated
French toilet articles and French cosmetics. As
she was likely to be rather indolent, she often
abandoned the marvels of make-up, sometimes
for days, preferring to lie on her couch with her
books and her cigarettes, not discommoding her-
self and receiving visitors in her negligee. Lying
in a dim light, her untidiness was partly con-
cealed, and the air was heavy with French per-

The women of the middle class in Russia are



stout like Orientals, and have the same qualities.
Their daughters are confided to governesses ; and
the young girls, sometimes of the finest material,
have the greatest possibilities. But as the par-
ents are blind and too much occupied with their
own lives, the noblest ideals are often abused.
Many of the girls, if not married to husbands
whom in most cases they hated, went to the uni-
versities or to the capital. To get away from the
narrow laziness of their famihes, they joined in
political agitations. In the Russian literature is
too much of good and bad inspiration, which
easily allures both boys and girls to a misunder-
standing of freedom or liberty of life. But
there is a wonderful stock of human force, intelli-
gence, and aspiration in the provinces, which
young Russia will use rightly, and the corrupt
and ridiculous class of little nobility will vanish.
To travel was always the highest desire of the
idle provincial ladies. To have a country home,
owned or rented, at one of the fashionable Cau-
casian water resorts or at the seashore was
absolutely necessary to them. It is not like
traveling; it is like an emigration when such a
familv moves to its summer residence. A Rus-


sian train conductor is the most indulgent
creature in the world. He waits at the car-door
until the tschinownik, with his wife, children, and
servants is settled in a compartment with his
hand luggage. This hand luggage consists,
many times, not only of a certain number of
cushions and bed-covers, in addition to bags,
boxes, and baskets, but of sewing-machines,
cradles, perambulators, musical instruments
belonging to the daughters, and finally the pets
of the children, birds, dogs, rabbits and even
white mice. A family often travels for twenty-
four hours and longer to reach the summer place.
After a few hours the crowded compartments
have become like a little town where all the people
know one another. The travelers laugh, chat,
and sleep ; they smoke and drink.

Russia has wonderful health resorts in the
Crimea and the Caucasus, which are favored by
climate and situation. They are equal to those
of the Italian and French Rivieras, and rich in
mineral waters helpful for all sorts of invalids.
Along the shores near Yalta in the Crimea is a
girdle of fascinating gardens and palaces of the
rich Russians and the aristocracy. After the



former czar's family showed a preference for the
Russian Riviera, hotels were opened and prices
became as high as in other fashionable places.

The Russian watering-places never were pre-
pared to furnish the accommodations to be found
in resorts not so remote from the center of the
European world. Side by side with the greatest
luxury the most disagreeable conditions pre-
vailed, and European and American visitors
could not understand the existence of certain
institutions that shocked even the good-natured

At Kislavodsk everything is beautifully cared
for, and nothing is different from places like
Carlsbad or Vichy. Elegantly gowned women
promenade to the ever-playing music, drink the
mineral waters, and stop at the different arcades
to purchase typical souvenirs or to drink tea or
eat ice-creams in cafes or confectionery shops.

Yet only a few yards from the bath-house, the
milieu of the fashionable world, the waters drip-
ping from big pipes collect in a round hole, which
the poor folk of Kislavodsk have enlarged to a
good-sized pool, and here, quite unembarrassed,
partly undressed men and women, old and young,



sit close together taking their baths, and deriving
benefit from the healing springs.

Tourists who go for the first time to Kis-
lavodsk and pass this peculiar spectacle are
startled, but finally they accept the situation. It
is Russian.




In former Russia the loss of a passport was a
calamity. All possible excuses were rejected;
the traveler without the paper with official seal

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17

Online LibraryLeonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-SeydlitzRussia of yesterday and to-morrow → online text (page 14 of 17)